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HOT Heritage - Málaga Cathedral - Soul of the City

With its construction dating back to 1518, Málaga's imposing Catedral de la Encarnacion — one of the most distinctive landmarks in Andalucía - is the heart and soul of the city both geographically and symbolically. Never more so than during the provincial capital's annual Holy Week, taking place from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and awarded official International Tourist Interest status...

A gracious building of combined Gothic and Renaissance architecture, Málaga Cathedral's endearingly lop-sided silhouette outlined against a clear blue Mediterranean sky, while instantly recognisable, also bears witness to the incalculable problems that beset its various architects for more than 300 years. Elaborate plans to build "one of the most remarkable cathedrals in Europe", far exceeded the resources of city coffers. Projects were redesigned and abandoned on several occasions, construction was interrupted by the plague, and La Encarnacion was also a victim of Spain's Civil War.

Affectionately known by maloguenos as 'La Manquita' (the Little One-armed Lady'), the South Tower is sadly no more than a stump. Yet far from diminishing this noble building in any way, it adds to its undeniable charm. The fact that the Cathedral ever saw the light of day was largely due to royal intervention by King Felipe V, who in the XVIII century, imposed a tax on all cargoes of wine, raisins and olives shipped out of Málaga port.

To put into context the enormous struggle that the construction of such an ambitious building entailed, work on Barcelona's famous La Seu Cathedral — which began as long ago as 1298 — was only completed at the end of the XX century, while construction slowly continues on Dail's iconic Catedral de la Sagrada Familia (begun in 1882) thanks solely to the entrance fees charged to visitors.

Following the 1487 capitulation of the city of Málaga to the Catholic Kings, Isabella and Fernando during the reconquist of the Kingdom of Granada — the last bastion of Islamic rule on the Iberian peninsula — the existing mosque was reconsecrated as a cathedral and used as a place of Christian worship for decades before it was decided to build the Catedral de la Encarnacion. Of Gothic design, the grandiose scheme was abandoned due to excessive cost in 1525, and of what remains, the entrance on Calle Santa Maria is the most noteworthy.

Dean Fernando Ortega, an influential figure well-connected at the court of King Carlos V, proposed the idea for the Cathedral as it is seen today, but with of course both towers intact, and commissioned the leading XVI century Burgos architect Diego de Siloe whose new designs were of Renaissance influence. Building was certainly already underway in 1527 and continued uninterrupted until the end of the XVI century. Although only the chancel and transept were completed, it was consecrated in 1588 and used as a place of worship from then on, despite construction soon tailing-off again During the XVII century, the choir and part of the transept doors were completed before work once more ground to a halt. Without funds, an attempt to restart the project in 1659 failed miserably, and it wasn't until a report published in the XVIII century concluded that the building was in danger of falling down that construction got back on track when King Felipe V came to the rescue with the controversial Málaga port tax which funded work until 1782 when construction ceased indefinitely.

Behind the elegant albeit unfinished facade, the exquisite lofty interior of La Encarnacian is bathed in natural light and features richly decorated ceilings and a choir, which with its 42 masterful sculptures by the great Pedro de Mena, is one of the country's most important showcases of Spanish Baroque imagery.

Among the plethora of historic treasures there is a Pieta by the Florentine Pisani brothers, frescoes by Cesare Arbassia, paintings by Venetian artist Palma Giovane and Miguel Manrique — a Flemish student of Rubens — and works by leading Spanish sculptors and artists such as Alonso Cano and Juan Nino de Guevera.

With Málaga's bid to win the 2016 European Capital of Culture title, there may be a glimmer of hope for the Cathedral's ill-fated South Tower. Using new-generation technology, revolutionary multimedia artist Manuel Coronado - responsible for the spectacular finale of Sevilla's Expo '92 - is planning a digitalised virtual representation of the missing Tower which, if successful, at night-time at least will give the illusion that the 'Little One-armed Lady' has at last been restored to full health.

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 58 - 2006

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